John Tollefson, a son of Lake Wobegon, has moved East to manage a radio station at a college for academically challenged children of financially gifted parents in upstate New York. Having achieved this pleasant perch, John has a brilliant idea for a restaurant specializing in fresh sweet corn. And he falls in love with an historian named Alida Freeman, hard at work on a book about a nineteenth-century Norwegian naturopath, an acquaintance of Lincoln, Thoreau, Whitman, and Susan B. Anthony.
Caught up in his own ambitions, John visits home in Minnesota to sit in the Sidetrack Tap and the Chatterbox Cafe and listen to the talk he has heard all his life, and in that familiar landscape he discovers what is truly important to him. It all comes down to the Lake Wobegon code: Cheer Up, Make Yourself Useful, Mind Your Manners, and Avoid Self-Pity.